After the first few practices, you can look around and see Florida football is in propinquity to becoming a team that won’t make fans throw bricks at their TV sets.
If you aren’t sure what that means, don’t sweat it. The important thing is the players seem to be getting the message.
Propinquity means being close to someone or something. I wouldn’t have used it, but Billy Napier became the first coach in NCAA history to throw it out during a news conference a few days ago.
“There’s a term called propinquity,” he said. “I challenge you in the next press conference we have, you can give me the definition of that.”
Napier wasn’t trying to come off as a linguistic snoot. He was stressing one of the ways he is overhauling the program.
You’ve heard a lot about Napier’s emphasis on details, discipline, structure, accountability, etc. We’re now starting to see those concepts in action.
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Fixing little things to fix big problem
“It’s the little things,” offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence said.
“We’re all outside in white socks,” defensive tackle Gervon Dexter said. “You won’t see a blue sock out there.”
Pre-Napier was more of a fashion mishmash. In a vacuum, sock conformity isn’t a big deal. Georgia would have beaten Florida last year wearing mismatched lead socks.
But trivialities matter. They form the football version of the Broken Windows theory of law enforcement.
It holds that serious crimes are bred by disorder. You short-circuit that by addressing minor crimes, like vandalism, loitering and public intoxication. Not everybody buys the theory, but New York City tried it 30 years ago and the crime rate plummeted.
In the football version, tolerating small offenses leads to disorder which leads to 15 penalties against Kentucky, including eight false starts. It leads to a back lining up wrong in a crucial 2-point attempt against Alabama.
It leads to the Shoe Toss Heard ‘Round the World. It leads to averaging 8.1 penalties a game and ranking 120th out of 130 FBS teams in penalties per game.
All that leads to going 3-9 in the past 12 games against Power 5 teams, and a fan base reaching for bricks to toss.
“That was an issue we had — just discipline,” Dexter said. “I think that was the biggest thing that needed to be changed.”
There’s really only one way to instill discipline—the old-fashioned way. Napier uses the term “designed difficulty,” which is propinquity to “Welcome to Marine boot camp.”
Day 2:Three quick takeaways from the Florida Gators’ second fall football practice of 2022
Every team has grueling workouts and likes to believe more guys puked into garbage cans than at other camps. Torrence and running back Montrell Johnson followed Napier to Gainesville from Louisiana. They heard their new teammates talk about pushing physical limits.
“Me and Montrell were laughing before we started,” Torrence said. “Those guys thought they knew what was coming, but they really didn’t. You could see the recognition when guys were falling down on their knees.”
Building a team concept
The key isn’t how many players end up on their knees. It’s making them buy into the struggle and see the greater purpose. They’re not just doing it to help their NFL draft stock. They’re doing it to help the guy on his knees next to him.
That’s where propinquity kicks in again. When the new training facility opens in a couple of weeks, Napier plans to reshuffle the locker assignments twice a year so players will have to mingle with different faces.
He’s doing the same thing in preseason camp, having unfamiliar players room with each other. He wants every player to know every other player’s name and hometown.
“There’s something to be said about developing loyalty and galvanizing the team,” Napier said.
It’s too early to tell whether it’s working. Players say it is, but that’s expected. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer proudly recalled how Justus Boone got on a teammate at the end of a spring practice.
“That’s not what we do,” Boone told him. “We expect more.”
“When you start to get that, you start to get them talking like that, man, it can be special,” Spencer said.
For a special season, UF could also use a few other things. Like a proven quarterback, playmakers and SEC-caliber depth.
After the first few practices, you look around and aren’t sure what you see with those things. But you also look around and don’t see any blue socks or broken windows.
Consider that a pretty good start.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun’s sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.